To borrow the words from a popular song, nobody said it was easy, [but] no one ever said it would be this hard... How true. Here, Chris Martin was clearly singing about the trial and trauma of writing a novel. Disclaimer: okay, probably not, but teems of writers across the land no doubt nod in silent agreement whenever they hear these lyrics, particularly when working on their very first book.
In all seriousness, writing a novel is a huge commitment. It would be wonderful if you could write the entire book with the same excitement and passion that drives you through the first couple of chapters and leaves you with a warm glow - that fulfilling sense of finally doing what you were always meant to do. But at some point during 80,000 plus words, it is almost inevitable that your enthusiasm will dip and motivation flounder, and waning interest may well leave you teetering on the edge of total abandonment. The only thing to keep you hanging on will be the amount of work you’ve already put in, the thought of disowning your dreams too soon, and the frustration of leaving your characters forever in limbo.
So how can you work through this dip when it would be a lot easier to just give up? Here are my 5 top tips to help you weather the storm:
If the situation is at critical levels – e.g. you can hardly bear to look at the thing; you’d much rather be doing something else; knitting may actually be your greatest talent and not writing after all – the very first thing to do before you can address the problem is to take a step back. Whilst some writers try to ‘write through’ these tough spots, if you feel your particular tough spot has gone on for some time or you can barely raise the enthusiasm to even try, it’s time for a good break. There’s no failure in taking a break – this is your book, you do it your way.
Close all computer files, store them in a place where you can’t easily see them (i.e. away from your desktop), clear your writing desk of notepads and scribblings, and allow yourself a novel-writing holiday. One week, two weeks, whatever you need to feel like your mind has had a complete rest. That’s not to say you can’t write during this time; in fact, feel free to let your mind wander, away from the constraints of your novel. Write about how you’re feeling, write a short story, poem, nonsense, anything you want to, but try to steer clear of your novel. (Unless of course you have a major plot revelation during this mini-break; in which case, for goodness' sake, write it down!)
Did you set intentions for yourself at the start? At some point – jotted in a notebook, on a scrap of paper, imprinted in your mind – you decided upon a reason for writing your book. Now is the time to remind yourself what that reason was. Perhaps this book was to be the start of your writing career, your creative entrepreneur business; or perhaps you had this story hanging around in your head for a while and had finally decided to get it down on paper and out into the world.
Either way, when you’re lacking drive to sit at your desk for yet another few hours, tapping away whilst wondering whether it’s all really worth it (particularly as nobody’s actually paying you for this bit!), take the time to re-evaluate your goals and intentions for this book. And, yes, visualise... Visualise how you will feel when it's finished: when you press the Publish button and let your work fly away on the wings of the interweb; when your printed book is in your hands; when you can call yourself a published author. These are the reasons you started, and these are the reasons to keep going.
Is there a technical reason for your waning enthusiasm? Could it be that you’ve written yourself into a corner? Lost faith in your characters? Lost your way? If this is the case, you’ve come up against some normal, everyday writing issues that are going to require a bit of work, and possibly some extra help. If this is a recent problem, you may be able to jump back a few chapters and try reworking some or all of the scenes for a different outcome. Alternatively, jump ahead and write a future scene, either one you know is going to happen at some point, or even one you hadn’t planned for but fills you with excitement at the prospect. Failing that, if you think the issues may be too much for you to work through on your own, ask someone for help - a friend to look it over, a beta reader to give you advice, or a professional (editor or critiquer) to help you get back on track.
Soldiering on without enthusiasm is not impossible – many writers insist it’s the only way to get that first draft down – and of course issues can be fixed in the redraft and editing stages, but it’s certainly not much fun. You could be helping yourself and your experience of the writing process by trying to get to the bottom of why you might have lost interest, before trudging onwards.
Whilst every story narrative is a sum of its parts (setting, plot, POV), I’m a big believer that it’s nothing without its characters. Nine times out of ten, issues within a narrative can be solved by paying attention to its inhabitants: are they acting as they should, and are they fully rounded, complete characters? You spend a lot of time with them, right? They need to stay interesting to you too, otherwise why would you want to give up precious time with the... ahem... real people in your life to spend time instead with the imaginary ones?
Losing enthusiasm for your book could really mean you have lost enthusiasm for your characters, in which case not only will you suffer, but your story, the finished book, and the readers who can spot a non-committal writer a mile off. So what to do? My advice would be to spend some time with your characters away from the page. ‘Listen’ to what they have to say; learn more about them if perhaps you haven’t learned enough; make notes, dictate thoughts or dialogue into a recorder; list everything about these people that you possibly can, even create scenes for them perhaps (on paper or in your mind) that the reader will never see – things that happen in their past, hopes for their future. These characters need to be ‘real’ to you in every way. If they’re not, you’ll lose faith in them, the narrative might weaken because of them, and your readers will see right through them. But when you do know them inside and out... well, they'll practically write the story for you.
This point correlates with point two about re-evaluating your goals. Some writers start writing their first novel because they heard or read about an indie author who achieved success doing exactly what they would like to do themselves. There is nothing more motivating than hearing success stories from others with the same goals as you. Luckily, the creative industries are coming into their own these days thanks to technological advances. There has never been a more accessible market. Independent authors – as well as editors, book designers, marketers, etc. – are keen to share their knowledge and working practices with colleagues and customers, and this means information, help and advice are in abundance!
As a self-confessed flitter (i.e. I have a habit of flitting between ideas: full of enthusiasm one day, distracted by something shinier the next), I find podcasts in particular highly motivating and useful for keeping me focussed on the task in hand. I also have a list of honest and realistic goals (with self-enforced deadlines) that I use to stop me from starting new projects before the previous ones are complete.
So if you struggle to get started but know that once you do your writing mojo will make an appearance and there’ll be no stopping you, do as I do: start the day with a motivational podcast, a re-read of your goals and intentions, followed by a strong coffee, and then away you go...
Now over to you. Is there anything you would add to this list? If you’re a more experienced indie author, what do you do to stay motivated to complete your book?
Martin, C (Coldplay). The Scientist (2002), Parlophone (UK), Capitol (US)
Penn, J. The Creative Penn Podcast, www.thecreativepenn.com/podcasts Accessed June 2017